The original Planet of the Apes movie franchise ran from 1968 to 1973. The movie franchise was based on the original novel La Planete des Singes or Monkey Planet by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote the original Bridge on the River Kwai book). The first movie in the series starred Charlton Heston and set the bar for drama and originality in the sci-fi genre that was gradually diminished as each movie sequel was released. Only the diehard Planet of the Apes fan would disagree with that statement and I guess that person would be me.
My personal favourites (after the original of course) are ‘Beneath…’ and ‘Battle…’ for lots of obscure fanboy reasons all centred around the gorilla-centric plot lines and the expansion of the original premise that apes now rule our devastated planet. I was keen on the idea being fleshed out and seeing the everyday simian/human existence for some reason fascinated me.
In 1974 a TV series was created – quite some time after the original movie had been made – I was all over it. Or as much as an 11 year old in the analogue world of Britain in the early seventies could be all over anything. Only fourteen episodes were actually made (why is it that when you discover a fact like this it’s always a surprise) and the show was cancelled midway through its run due to low ratings.
The show is based loosely around the apes ruling the world routine but with the subjugated humans having the ability to talk, helping to create more plot options, clearly. Two astronauts, Burke and Virdon, hook up with chimpanzee Galen and end up having what to modern eyes fairly run of the mill episodes. At the time of course these were monumental clashes between man and ape with the ingenuity of humankind, the wisdom of orangutans, the intelligence of chimpanzees and the barbarity of gorillas all providing plenty of plot options.
Of course these days if we like a movie or TV show we can record it, buy it, download it, see it umpteen times on catch up or see it endlessly on a lesser channel. But in 1974 it was on once and that was it. Not to be short-changed I recorded each episode on an analogue audio tape deck, sat in front of the television set with a circular dial operated tape cassette .
No, really, I did.
I even stopped and started to cut out the TV ads.I would listen to the deteriorating TDK recordings over and over, trying make out the dialogue amidst the tape hiss and pots and pans being rattled in the background. I can still recall the thrill of the opening credits theme tune and it still to this day sends a chill down my spine.
Although the series was canned in the US, it was much popular in the UK for some reason and it spawned all manner or merchandise and paraphernalia around it. I was already a comic devotee by this time and it’s fair to say that Planet of the Apes caught my imagination in so many ways. The original movie franchise was also released back in to the cinemas which is when I actually saw them all for the first time – all out of the correct order as it happens – and the bug was well and truly caught for me.
There were the ubiquitous bubble gum cards of course and what self-respecting 11-year-old wasn’t into that? Then came the Marvel comic adaptation which wasn’t bad at all with an alternative take on the ape versus man universe. Toy merchadise was next up and compared to the relentless commercialism around franchises these days, the POTA toys were tame by comparison but very collectable. My favourite was Urko, so I had to get him first, followed by Galen and for bizarrely I wasn’t that fussed for the humans, it was all about the apes for me.
There were also live shows at showgrounds across the country with Apes on horseback chasing down humans, whips, guns and all manner of excitement. We went to see one of the live extravaganzas in Harrogate and my dad managed to get Urko’s autograph for me. I still have it somewhere. There was even what I thought at the time sub standard animated TV series called Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it was no substitute for the main deal, but it slaked our simian thirst.
I look back on my obsession with all things ape with faint embarrassment but with complete understanding of myself now and at that time. I often see things in the geek treasure trove that I think my 11 year old self would be beside himself to even touch, never mind own. My obsessional behavioural pattern was established early in life with boxes of Apes stuff stashed in the loft after the next big thing to come along overtook it (Star Wars I think).
These boxes of well used merchhadise and lovingly curated scrapbooks wait patiently to be discovered in the dusty darkness. In fact, I might go have a look right now…